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What in Sam Hill ... started the Hatfield and McCoy Feud?

Samuel Ewing Hill Adjutant General of Kentucky: 1887 - 1891.
Samuel Ewing Hill
Adjutant General of Kentucky:
1887 - 1891.

Report from the Adjutant General of Kentucky, 1888.

Kentucky Senate

Tuesday, March 6, 1888.

Legislative Document No. 2

On motion of Mr. Smith, the following communication from the Governor, and accompanying correspondence, was ordered printed and laid on the desks of members, viz:

    Commonwealth of Kentucky,

    Executive Department,Frankfort,

    March 5, 1888.

    Hon. J. W. Bryan, Speaker of the Senate:


    SIR: In compliance with a resolution of the Senate adopted February 11, 1888, I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of the official correspondence between the Governor of West Virginia and myself, in relation to the Pike county troubles, and also of the Adjutant-General’s report thereon.


    Very respectfully,

    S. B. Buckner.

[Only the Report of the Adjutant General of Kentucky reproduced below, see Kentucky Documents, 1888 for complete correspondence]

Frankfort, Ky., February 6, 1888.

Gov. S. B. Buckner:

DEAR SIR:

.....Pursuant to your order of the 29th ult. I left Frankfort that night and proceeded to Pike County to investigate the border warfare between the Hatfields, of Logan County, of West Virginia, and the McCoys, of Pike County. I reached Pikeville the night of the 31st, and remaining till the morning of the 3d, made diligent inquiry into the origin and history of the feuds, and from the most reliable sources I gathered the following facts, viz: Some time previous to the August election, 1882, the Sheriff of Pike county appointed Tolbert McCoy a special bailiff to execute some bench warrants on Johnson Hatfield, which warrants had issued on indictments found against said Hatfield in the Pike Circuit Court for misdemeanors, and which warrants the Sheriff himself had been unable to execute. Tolbert McCoy, with two of his brothers, made the arrest of Hatfield under the warrants and started to Pikeville with their prisoner, when they were intercepted by an armed force of the Hatfields, who had been informed of the arrest by some friends, and who immediately crossed the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy, and, taking a nearer route than that traveled by McCoy and his prisoner, intercepted them and rescued the prisoner. Soon afterwards, at the August election, 1882, several of the Hatfields crossed over to the Kentucky side to attend the election, as was their custom, when, during the day, "Big" Ellison Hatfield, brother to Anderson Hatfield, the present leader of the Hatfield band, and Tolbert McCoy, engaged in a fight, which was provoked and urged on by Hatfield, who was a very large man, and far over-matched McCoy, who was a man of small stature. McCoy soon found that he was over-matched, and drew his knife and commenced stabbing Hatfield, notwithstanding which, Hatfield continued to hold the advantage, and was in the act of braining McCoy with a large stone which he had, when McCoy’s brother came to his assistance and shot Hatfield with a pistol.

    .....The McCoys, who had participated in that fight, were arrested by the Pike county authorities, and were being detained in custody to await the result of Hatfield’s wounds, when Anderson Hatfield and his gang took them by force from the custody of the Kentucky authorities and carried them across Tug, near where they detained them till Ellison Hatfield died, some 36 to 48 hours, when they brought them back to the Kentucky side, and, tying them to papaw bushes, shot them to death. The McCoys thus slain were three in number, all brothers, and sons of Randolph McCoy, one of them being but fourteen years old, whom the Hatfields accused of complicity in the wounding of Ellison Hatfield. For this murder of three McCoy brothers the grand jury of Pike County, at the next term of the Pike Circuit Court, returned three indictments against each one of the twenty-three persons. Bench warrants were repeatedly issued on said indictments and were as often returned "not found," notwithstanding many of the persons indicted frequently crossed to the Kentucky side, but on such occasions they were numerically so strong and so well armed as to successfully resist arrest, even if it had been attempted. Thus matters rested for some five years, the Hatfields, in the meantime, taking an active interest in Kentucky elections and admonishing the Sheriff, in whose hands the bench warrants might, at such time, happen to be, to stay away from the precinct or voting place on the east side of Pike county and contiguous to the Tug, which they were in the habit of visiting on election occasions, on the day of their contemplated visit, or, if he should attend, to leave the bench warrants for their arrest behind; and their admonitions were heeded till Frank Phillips, whom your Excellency designated as the agent for Kentucky to receive the persons named in your requisition upon the Governor of West Virginia for certain ones of said indicted parties, was appointed Deputy Sheriff; when on one occasion, when an election was approaching, they sent word to Phillips to keep away from said election, as they wanted to attend, or, if he attended, to leave the bench warrants against them behind, for if he was there with the bench warrants they would kill him. Phillips replied that his official business demanded his presence there that day, and that he would be there, and would have the bench warrants, and if they came he would either take or kill them.

    .....Phillips went to the election and the Hatfields approached within gunshot and fired a volley up through the brush, stampeding all but some eight or ten persons; the plucky little Sheriff remained till late in the evening, but, plucky as he is, he did not feel that he could accomplish their arrest.

    .....Nothing further of an eventful character occurred in the history of the vendetta till last fall, when Frank Phillips, with two or three men, crossed over into Logan county to receive the prisoners who, he said, he supposed had by that time been arrested under warrants issued by Gov. Wilson, based upon your requisition; but learning, after he had crossed the State line, that no warrants had been issued, or at least that no arrest had been made, and meeting with Tom. Chambers, who is said to have taken a prominent part in the murder of the three McCoy brothers and two others, all three of whom were included in the indictments, he could not resist so good an opportunity to arrest them, and so he did arrest them and brought them back to Pike county, where they, were served with the bench warrants and placed in jail. To avenge that invasion and arrest, as it is supposed, the Hatfield crowd, on the night of January 1st, ult., crossed the Tug Fork in force, penetrated Pike county a distance of seven miles till they reached the peaceful mountain home of old Randolph McCoy, which they surrounded and demanded a surrender. The faithful watch dog had given warning, however, and old man McCoy and his son Calvin, about twenty-seven years old, arose (the family had retired for the night) and made hasty preparations for the best defense possible against such heavy odds, and to the heavy volleys of the assailants returned a vigorous fire and held them at bay for some two or three hours, and until the house, which had been fired from without, was almost ready to fall, when the young man leaped out and ran towards the corn crib, having said to his father that if he could reach the crib he would cover the father’s retreat to the same point, and he believed from that retreat they could yet drive the marauders off; but when about half-way from the dwelling to the crib he fell dead with a ball through his brain. The old man then seized a double-barrel shot-gun and leaped out, discharging both barrels at the enemy, who, somewhat disconcerted for a moment, did not fire upon him till he was well out in the darkness, and, although they fired several shots at him, he escaped unhurt.

    .....In the meantime, one of the party had commanded his unmarried daughter, who occupied a room somewhat detached from that occupied by her parents, to make a light, but she replied that she had neither fire nor matches. The command was repeated, and, upon her failure to comply, she was shot through the left breast and instantly killed, though she begged piteously for them not to execute their threat to shoot her for failing to make light, assuring them that it was not in her power to comply with their command. The old mother rushed from her room to go to her daughter; whereupon she was struck upon the head, knocked down and beaten into insensibility, and left for dead upon the porch—at least, with part of her person on the porch. The assailants withdrew just before the house was ready to fall at one end, first closing what little of the door shutters which had not been shot away, with the evident purpose of burning the remaining members of the family; but, after they were gone, another daughter, about eighteen years old rescued some bedding, upon which she placed the body of her dead sister, the almost lifeless form of her mother, and two children of Talbert McCoy—a boy about seven years old and a little hunchback girl about five—where they remained till the neighbors arrived, about daylight. The heroic girl had her feet badly frost bitten, from which she has not yet recovered, and she could not avoid weeping freely as the old lady detailed to me, in her presence, the horrors of that terrible night. The little boy, too, is worthy of special mention, for when he emerged from the burning dwelling, when it was almost ready to fall, he thought of his little crippled sister, who was still in the house, and he re-entered and again came forth leading her by the hand; nor did he even cry during the whole of the battle. Mrs. McCoy impressed me as a candid, honest old lady, and was still unable to walk when I saw her, on account of several of her ribs being broken near the spinal column.

    .....About the 8th of January, Frank Phillips, with a number of Kentuckians, again crossed the Tug Fork to arrest the outlaws and bring them to justice, when they were fired on by old man Jim Vance and Cap. Hatfield; and in the fight which resulted old man Vance—who is said to have been the most desperate man in that entire section, and a fast friend of the Hatfields—was killed, but Cap. Hatfield made his escape.

    .....Subsequently, Phillips and party made another incursion into Logan county, and were again fired upon (without warning this time); and in the fight which ensued, one Dempsey, of the Hatfield party, was killed, and Bud McCoy, of the Phillips party, was severely wounded. In the two forays made by Phillips and his party during the present year they succeeded in capturing six more of the indicated parties, all of whom were brought safely over into Pike, served with warrants of arrest, and confined in the Pike county jail, making nine in all of the twenty-three indicted persons now confined in the Pike county jail, and awaiting trial for the murder of the McCoy brothers.

    .....The charge that the vendetta originated during the war is not sustained by the facts; for while it is true Hurmer McCoy, a brother of Randolph McCoy, was murdered after his discharge and return home from the Union army, his murder was attributed to old James Vance, and none of his kindred ever attempted, so far as I could learn, to avenge his death; and Johnson Hatfield, son of Anderson, has since married his daughter. The McCoys and Hatfields belong to the same political party, hence the feud is, and has been from the start, personal and political. The assertion that Anderson Hatfield and his sons, Johnson and Cap., are reputable, law-abiding people, is not sustained, for the stories of their lawlessness and brutality, vouched for by credible persons, would fill a volume; while, on the other hand, old man McCoy and his boys are represented as law-abiding, honest people by reputable men, who have known them long and intimately, and the young man, Calvin, who was murdered on New Year’s night, is spoken of in terms of the highest commendation, and I was repeatedly told that Pike county did not contain a young man of better character or habits. I advised our people to remain upon our side of the State line, and assured them of your Excellency’s active sympathy for them in all lawful measures to uphold the law and punish crime, and that you would exert the influence of your high office to maintain the law and to punish offenders against it; but told them that you were especially desirous that they should do nothing which would give the officials of West Virginia just cause of complaint.

    .....I took the initial steps towards organizing accompany of State Guards at Pikeville, there being plenty of good material there for the purpose, and in which I feel confident we will secure for the State Guard the service of an excellent company; and I sought to impress them with the fact that their arms would be used only by command of the civil authority in maintaining the peace and dignity of our Commonwealth in the rigid enforcement of her laws.

    Respectfully submitted.

    Sam. E. Hill,

    Adjutant-General.

 

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